‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ says the proverb and nowhere is there more necessity than in the poor parts of the world. Yet the distressing TV images we so regularly see suggest not enough invention is going into solving the problems faced in these places, and raises the question: how can innovation best be stimulated to help solve poverty and other challenges faced by the world’s poor?
For-profit corporations, philanthropists, NGOs and social entrepreneurs have taken up the challenge but often struggle to overcome the market and state failures that hold back progress. Now, new research from Dr Neil Stott and Professor Paul Tracey at Judge Business School, Cambridge University, suggest there has been too much focus on the role of for-profit corporations and social entrepreneurs and this has obscured the key function that state agencies can and should play in creating more enduring solutions. They propose a different approach, one which relies on cross-sectoral collaboration through ‘social extrapreneurship’.
Countless localized social, public and private organizations strive to find new solutions to social problems in poor places, and although the lack of socio-economic resources presents numerous challenges innovation often flourishes and has a real positive impact on the lives of millions. The question remains however: can relatively powerless micro actors make a difference to macro problems?
President Eisenhower said "If you cannot solve a problem as it is, enlarge it.” The approach proposed by Stott and Tracey seems to be about enlarging the drivers of innovation to include as broad a group of stakeholders as possible and getting them to collaborate rather than work individually.
Stott and Tracey stress the importance of understanding the context, tensions and contradictions, as well as the opportunities for social innovation in poor places. Based an understanding of what works – the successes and the failures – and on their analysis of previous research, they contend that “in poor places, creating and working in and between organizations and networks is crucial to securing, sustaining, and anchoring opportunity and resources.”
And, they extol the virtue of ‘social extrapreneurship’ which they define as the “process of inter-organizational action that facilitates alternative combinations of ideas, people, places and resources to address social challenges and make social change.” For, example, the creation of support ecosystems, networks, funds, and educational opportunities constitute forms of social extrapreneurship.
Social extrapreneurship is not new. It was at its peak in the late 19th century – when local public, church, civil, and social reformers built initiatives such as the ‘co-operative movement’ in the UK. However, with the growth of the interventionist state it declined, and today it is under pressure on two fronts: first because in times of so called ‘austerity’ states are less inclined to get involved and secondly because of the hype around social entrepreneurship which Stott and Tracey see “as a vibrant yet inchoate approach whose potential and impact is unproven.”
Dr Stott and Professor Tracey lead the Masters in Social Innovation at Judge Business School, a two-year, part-time, graduate program which welcomed its first cohort of 30 students in October 2016. The program provides an overview and understanding of approaches to social innovation within the corporate and public sectors and the NGO/social sector as well as the pressing need to work in collaboration to tackle the social, cultural, economic, and environmental problems the globe faces.
In recognition of the fact that social innovation occurs across all sectors, the Masters is aimed at middle and senior level leaders in NGOs, public bodies and the private sector. Students form a key part of a strategy to engage with individuals and organizations working specifically to develop novel 'solutions' to deep-rooted problems of poverty and inequality in both rich and poor countries.